At soccer games across the country, weekend after weekend, players of all levels will face off against referees they’ll recognize by face or name. However, until Jason Jarrett showed up, few, if any, would meet a former teammate with a whistle in hand.
jarrett played over 250 times in league football, most of them with wigan athletic and bury, and was part of the latics team that achieved promotion to the premier league in the 2004/05 season .
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after retiring from the game in 2015, for some time in non-league football, he took the unprecedented step of turning to arbitration, starting from the bottom and taking charge of Sunday league games at his lancashire native.
but while he maintains that former players can thrive as referees by adding a new perspective, he is stepping down after five years. The barriers to success Jarrett has encountered have helped shed light on why not a single former player has broken through as a referee.
“I started my career at 16 and, including loan spells, played for 13 different teams. four of them are currently in the top league, and there’s a rule that you can’t referee a team you’ve played a role on, which makes it pretty impossible for an ex-player,” explains jarrett.
“I’ve tried to explain to them that I’m neutral, I’ve played against teams that I’ve actually played for, and as soon as you cross that white line, you don’t care. If you’re going to be biased, especially as a referee, someone will know you’re partial and that there is no place to hide.
“I’ve tried to explain that, but it’s the rules and that’s the way it is. just as an example, in the fa cup in january, i think there was a linesman who couldn’t be an assistant referee in a crystal palace game because he had played in a junior game in 1991, so what chance do i have? /p>
The regulations certainly present a challenge to ex-players. Climbing from grassroots umpiring to the major league is likely to take even the best players close to a decade, and that can be daunting for those coming from a career where talent can be rewarded with quick promotions from outside the league. to the league highest category.
Speaking at the premiere of bt sport films’ ref: stories from the weekend,
jarrett acknowledges the importance of establishing a route to the top that doesn’t unfairly accelerate those who have played the game.
He also admits that seeing things from the other side has given him a new respect for referees in general. At the same time, however, he fears that the existing process may deter talented referees from approaching improving the game with their unique perspective.
“I had a great relationship (with the fa) but after almost five years I’m making £32 a game. that’s after five years in the game and having played it professionally, it’s tough,” he admits.
“if you’re going to start from the bottom, we’re talking nine to 10 years, and you’re asking a lot of a former pro who retired at 34-35, when he’s 44-45.” reach the top. it’s a long time.
“I’m not saying that [the referees] should all be ex-players, because there are some excellent referees now, but I do think we can increase the quality with the participation of a couple of ex-players.”
jarrett speaks highly of the pfa and gordon taylor, revealing that he has received a lot of support and more efforts are being made to help former players consider a career as a referee. but at the same time he acknowledges that there is probably a good reason why no former player has refereed a football league match in his life.
There is an argument that the rules as they exist now are not designed to cater to ex-players because there has never been a need to. Only one active First Division referee, Graham Scott, began refereeing top-tier matches after the age of 45.
with jarrett’s estimation that players retire in their mid-thirties and then take ten years to rise through the ranks, the outlook doesn’t look positive for anyone wishing to go down that path.
Still, the pfa seems to recognize that players can offer something new, launching courses for ex-players looking to become referees after retiring, and jarrett seems self-aware when it comes to acknowledging the positives and negatives of the game. speed. tracking down those who wish to follow in his footsteps.
“It definitely helped me being a player, because I think I knew the mentality. I learned very quickly before the game to get them on my side, and I know how the players react even before the tackle is made and I can get a sense of how the game is going and talk to [the players]. I got a lot more respect because I had played the game, and that really helped,” she adds.
“Number one, I think you have to make the right decisions, but I think people would respect your decisions more as a former player. When I started out, I think one or two people were surprised to see me referee games, but the respect they showed me definitely helped. They can’t turn around and say “ref, you don’t know what you’re doing” when I’m 16 years old as a pro.
“I was always good at spotting before something happened, so there are rarely exits in my games. usually a farewell is [because of] something that builds up over time, and people don’t nip it in the bud fast enough, and I think he was pretty good at that.
“It’s not as easy as you think, but I think there are some ex-players who could do a really good job and help improve the game as well.”
While jarrett seems resigned to the fact that he doesn’t see himself returning to arbitration unless some big (and highly unlikely) changes go into effect in the near future, he hopes the idea of ex-players moving to arbitration doesn’t start and end with it.
To that end, he remains willing to play a role in the pfa, even if that doesn’t involve him taking over the games. There is definitely enthusiasm from current players, even those attached to league clubs who might not need the financial reward, and Jarrett can certainly claim to have broken new ground even without refereeing the league himself.
“Of course it’s going to be a draw to be a part of the premier league and the champions league, refereeing at old trafford and so on, especially when you’ve also played,” he says.
“but right now a lot of them have a hard time seeing their way there.”
watch ‘ref: stories from the weekend’ on bt sport 1 from 23:00 on Tuesday, April 18.